Holds, Saves and Blown Saves

Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels, with 54 saves in 59 opportunities, is on his way to breaking the all-time single season record of 57, set by Bobby Thigpen of the White Sox in 1990. Percentage wise, the Phillies’ Brad Lidge is perfect, with 33 saves in 33 opportunities. On the opposite end, there are records such as those of Aaron Heilman of the Mets, 3 for 7 this year and 9 for 33 since 2004. It’s obvious Heilman can’t close games, with a record like that. No wonder Willie Randolph got fired. Right? Wrong!
Saves have become a statistic who’s leaders are as well known to the casual fan as the homerun leaders, and save percentage is one of the simplest computations in baseball statistics, but it has always contained an error that grossly distorts the value of middle relievers to the general public. It is easy to understand that the setup man isn’t in a position to get many saves, but save percentage has been held up by many, including the media, as evidence that certain pitchers routinely fail when handed a save situation, proof that they can’t handle the closer role.
A save is credited to a relief pitcher who is not the winning pitcher in a game won by his team, and finishes the game with 1. the tying runs at bat, on base, or on deck 2. pitches at least an inning with a lead of three runs or less or 3. pitches at least three innings. If a pitcher enters the game satisfying these conditions, and then allows the runs which gives up his team’s lead, that pitcher is the charged with a blown save. Save opportunities (SvOpp) are then defined as Sv+BS, and Sv% as Sv/SvOpp. It looks simple, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Some time after the save rule was introduced to give credit to those pitchers closing out victories, it was realized that middle relivers were not getting credit for their accomplishments in holding the leads which were then passed on to the closers. A Hold was then defined as coming into the game in a save situation, holding the lead, but not finishing the game. If the pitcher going for the hold allows the runs which give up the lead, he is charged with a blown save.
This is the crucial definition. The common perception is that save opportunities are only for closers, and if a pitcher has any blown saves they came when trying to close a game for a save. What actually occurs is that middle relievers, pitching in the 7th or 8th inning, when no one expects them to finish the game for a save, give up the lead, and because there is no such thing as a blown hold, get charged with a blown save. Where SvOpp = Sv+BS, BS now equals blown holds + blown saves. The equation becomes SvOpp = Sv+BS+BH, and Sv% is explicitly written as Sv% = Sv / (Sv+BS+BH).
Now we can see the error in the formula. Blown Holds are in the denominator, but Holds are not in the numerator.
Saves are a subset of holds, those that finish the game. A correct Sv% would not include Blown Holds, charging Blown Saves only when the pitcher was reasonably expected to finish the game.
Working with the numbers that are currently available, Hld% could be defined broadly as all Holds, incuding Saves. This is expressed as Hld% = (Hld + Sv) / (Hld + Sv + BS), the percentage of the time a relief pitcher was given a lead (subject to the provisions of the save rule) and then held that lead.
Let’s see how that changes our perception of various relief pitchers. Our poster boy for misinterpretation, Scott Linebrink, has 5 Saves and 29 Blown Saves from 2004-2008. Pretty bad? Let’s add in his 130 holds (2nd in the majors to Scot Shields 139) so that we now see that Linebrink has held the lead 135 times in 164 opportunities, a .823 Hld%. That is a hair below the MLB average of .837 over the past 5 seasons. The worst Hold% from 2004-2008, with 50 or more opportunities, is held by Ambiorix Burgos at .698. So even the “worst” at holding a lead does so 70% of the time.
Here are the top ten in Holds so far in 2008

Name GR Hold Sv BS SvOpp Sv% HldOpp Hold%
Kyle McClellan 62 30 1 4 5 0.200 35 0.886
Scot Shields 51 26 2 3 5 0.400 31 0.903
Dan Wheeler 59 26 10 2 12 0.833 38 0.947
Carlos Marmol 69 25 6 2 8 0.750 33 0.939
Eddie Guardado 57 25 4 0 4 1.000 29 1.000
Tony Pena 62 22 2 3 5 0.400 27 0.889
Duaner Sanchez 57 21 0 0 0 0.000 21 1.000
Ron Mahay 51 21 0 1 1 0.000 22 0.955
Chad Qualls 62 21 2 7 9 0.222 30 0.767
Damaso Marte 61 21 5 2 7 0.714 28 0.929

and the top 10 in Holds 2004-2008

Name GR Hold Sv BS SvOpp Sv% HldOpp Hold%
Scot Shields 334 139 17 24 41 0.415 180 0.867
Scott Linebrink 332 130 5 29 34 0.147 164 0.823
Tom Gordon 296 97 48 24 72 0.667 169 0.858
Chad Qualls 324 96 8 19 27 0.296 123 0.846
Bob Howry 339 94 17 15 32 0.531 126 0.881
Damaso Marte 341 92 15 16 31 0.484 123 0.870
Dan Wheeler 320 90 33 15 48 0.688 138 0.891
Scott Eyre 324 84 1 14 15 0.067 99 0.859
Juan Rincon 327 83 3 14 17 0.176 100 0.860
Kyle Farnsworth 335 83 23 15 38 0.605 121 0.876
         

The top 10 in Hold% 2004-2008

Name GR Hold Sv BS SvOpp Sv% HldOpp Hold%
Mike Gonzalez 192 37 37 3 40 0.925 77 0.961
Carlos Marmol 134 42 7 3 10 0.700 52 0.942
Cliff Politte 152 47 2 3 5 0.400 52 0.942
Mariano Rivera 329 0 191 16 207 0.923 207 0.923
Brian Wilson 109 13 43 5 48 0.896 61 0.918
Julian Tavarez 251 57 9 6 15 0.600 72 0.917
Joe Nathan 331 0 196 18 214 0.916 214 0.916
Ron Mahay 261 61 2 6 8 0.250 69 0.913
Tony Pena 162 55 5 6 11 0.455 66 0.909
Randy Flores 230 56 3 6 9 0.333 65 0.908

and the bottom 10 in Hold% 2004-2008

Name GR Hold Sv BS SvOpp Sv% HldOpp Hold%
Jeremy Accardo 173 18 37 15 52 0.712 70 0.786
Joel Zumaya 111 44 3 13 16 0.188 60 0.783
Roberto Hernandez 248 44 6 14 20 0.300 64 0.781
LaTroy Hawkins 310 59 32 28 60 0.533 119 0.765
Shawn Chacon 135 13 36 16 52 0.692 65 0.754
David Riske 278 38 12 17 29 0.414 67 0.746
Matt Herges 250 27 23 19 42 0.548 69 0.725
Gary Majewski 223 40 2 16 18 0.111 58 0.724
Cla Meredith 188 36 0 15 15 0.000 51 0.706
Ambiorix Burgos 143 17 20 16 36 0.556 53 0.698
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One Response to Holds, Saves and Blown Saves

  1. Very good piece Brian! I think the note about the save being a specific kind of hold is not well understood by many who follow baseball, so kudos for your explanation of that as well.

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